AT THAT POINT, ELLA WASN’T ABLE TO PICK UP ANYTHING OR MOVE HER ELBOW. SHE COULD
just three pediatric certified hand therapists in San Diego and the only one still in practice. She’s also a key to Ella’s success story.
to the intensive care unit because the new muscle—which was completely exposed with only a small paddle of overlying skin—had to be continuously monitored. “The ICU nurses were listening to her heartbeat for hours, making sure the transplanted muscle was receiving blood. If the blood flow to the muscle stopped, she would have had to go immediately back to the OR—it was critical to keep that muscle alive,” Sam says. “Essentially, for the next four days in the ICU, the job was to monitor that muscle.” Ella also needed a blood transfusion. She was on a PICC line and an IV for medication, nutrition and liquids. “She was a wreck,” Sam says. “Even though it was a successful surgery, we weren’t through the woods yet. We knew things could go south at any minute.” Luckily, the muscle transplant took, and Ella could move forward to the next step: a skin graft that involved removing skin from her upper thighs and transplanting it to her arm. Once the graft was complete, the surgeons’ work was nearly done, but Ella’s was just beginning.
“One thing I’d emphasize about
BARELY MOVE HER FINGERS.
Ella is that she has a really good outcome and it’s in large part due to her therapist,” Dr. Hinchcliff says.
“When we met Denise, Ella couldn’t use her hand at all,” Sam recalls. “Denise said, ‘I’ve been prepared to see her. She’s going to be one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced, and I’m ready to take it on.’” At that point, Ella wasn’t able to pick up anything or move her elbow. She could barely move her fingers. “As recently as a few months ago, she couldn’t touch her face with her palm, only the back of her hand,” Sam says. “Now, speeding through to today, she has 90-percent function in her hand. She can write. She can do handstands! Seeing where she’s been to where she is now is incredible.”
ON TO OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY
The week after the skin graft was trying for Ella. She wouldn’t eat. She was sick. And she still had a long journey ahead of her to get her newly repaired arm back to normal functioning. “We got her arm fixed but at what cost?” says Sam. “It was scary for us because we still didn’t know what to expect. With the arm, it’s not just a procedural or medical fix; it’s also functional. So, I had questions: Will she be able to write again? It wasn’t promising. Will she be able to turn a doorknob? Possibly. Will she be able to ride a bike? Maybe. You just keep listing things in the hopes of hearing yes. We were told they thought Ella’s hand would likely be more like a helper hand. There was still this black cloud hanging overhead.” That’s when occupational therapist and certified hand therapist Denise Hoover entered the picture. Hoover, who has been with Rady Children’s for 31 years, is one of
LEFT: Ella’s friends
and family show their support with signs
treatment, Ella is back to doing what she loves— dancing
22 HEALTHY KIDS MAGAZINE WINTER 2023
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